Eight airlines have joined forces in legal action against the Dutch government to prevent a stricter cap on the number of flights at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. The major northern European hub is currently allowed to handle 500,000 flights annually, but authorities in the Netherlands recently decided to reduce Schiphol’s capacity to 460,000 flight annual movements to reduce noise levels.
The new flight cap is set to come into force next November. The Dutch government is planning to impose a further reduction of flight movements to 440,000 by 2024.
The lawsuit is backed by KLM, KLM Cityhopper, Martinair, Transavia—all part of Air France-KLM Group—Delta Air Lines (which holds a 3 percent share in the Franco-Dutch group), leisure carriers Corendon and TUI, and low-cost carrier EasyJet.
“We are embracing the targets set for reducing noise levels and carbon dioxide emissions, investing billions in fleet renewal and sustainable aviation fuel procurement that will ultimately supersede these targets while maintaining our network that serves 170 destinations worldwide, KLM CEO Marjan Rintel said. “As the government appears not to hear our call, unfortunately, we find ourselves compelled to take legal action,” she added.
The KLM Group, which accounts for close to 60 percent of traffic at Schiphol, initiated the legal action in line with parent company Air France-KLM Group’s position on the matter. In addition, the Netherlands air transport industry association BARIN has indicated its full support for this initiative, along with Airlines for Europe and the European Regions Airline Association. The groups are concerned that the threatened capacity reduction at Schiphol could have major implications for the European Union (EU) single aviation market.
Questions Over European Union Rules and Chicago Convention
In a related move, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and a number of other airlines will also be going to court to initiate proceedings against the Dutch government. IATA maintains the decision by the Dutch government is “political” and it contravenes EU Regulation 598/2014 on noise-related operating restrictions at EU airports, which requires consultation with affected parties and the use of flight reductions only as a last resort. The EU rule also requires a balance between the needs and concerns of local residents, the environment, and the local economy for aviation’s economic and social benefits.
IATA alleges that the Dutch government’s decision to reduce Schiphol airport’s capacity also disregards the Chicago Convention, a binding international agreement to which the Netherlands is a signatory. “The dangerous precedent that this illegal approach creates left no choice but to challenge them in court,” commented IATA director general, Willie Walsh.
Conversely, the Schiphol Airport management supports the Dutch government’s decision and said a reduction from 500,000 to 460,000 flights per year represents a “necessary intermediate step.” In a statement, Royal Schiphol Group reckons Schiphol connectivity to the world “is of incredible value to our prosperity and well-being. At the same time, we realize that aviation also affects air quality, noise pollution, and the climate. We are fully committed to reducing noise nuisance and emissions.”
The airport company is calling on the Dutch government to initiate a new Airport Traffic Decree containing “hard” environmental limits. “Environmental limits that make it clear to the aviation sector what is and what is not possible. And there should also be room for reward within these limits when aviation proves to be quieter and cleaner,” it stated.